Asbestos (sometimes more broadly extended to ACM… asbestos-containing materials) can be extremely dangerous, and is still present in many older buildings in the UK. However, the material is only dangerous when moved, whereupon it might release the fibres into the air that can, unfortunately, lead to some kinds of cancers. Sometimes, therefore, it is more a matter of containment, and management, than removal; if successfully managed, it won’t present a health hazard. Equally, you don’t always need to bring in an expert to make the call on what any suspect material is, and what might need be done with it.
However, someone does need to be in place to make this call, to establish the practical steps needed to protect people from exposure to ACM, to maintain the management of the material and to request outside help where it is felt that it might be needed. That person is assigned with the ‘duty to manage’ role, which will now be explained within this article.
Firstly, you may be wondering what buildings might fit this category. Broadly speaking, these rules will apply to all non-domestic premises – so shops, hospitals, factories, warehouses and offices – essentially all pubic, commercial and industrial buildings. This also extends to the common areas of certain domestic premises, such as flats, whether blocks of flats or house conversions.
Secondly, if this list covers you, you might further ask who has this duty to manage? In a non-domestic setting, the role will fall to the site manager, or the person usually entrusted with the workplace safety of all employees. The duty holder might also be the person, or persons, responsible for the maintenance of the site, as stipulated in a tenancy contract.
Asbestos risk management
OK, so what does the duty to manage entail? As stipulated in the 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, the duty holder needs to take the appropriate steps to discover whether there is indeed any ACM in the premises, the location of that material, as well as its condition and quantity. Where there is any doubt, government advice is to err on the side of caution and presume the material contains asbestos.
There is, further, a requirement to keep a record of that information, and to keep that record up-to-date should circumstances change, whilst also assessing any risks to people in the building. Those risks must be set out in a management plan that can easily be put into action, and can be monitored and reviewed, to ensure currency. Finally, this information must be made available to anyone likely to disturb the material; and from the other perspective, any persons involved must also fully assist the duty holder in the execution of their duties.
So, if you feel you have a building that meets this category, and that you might be the duty holder, what do you have to do? Let’s distill what we have discussed here into three simple stages. Firstly, find out if the premises do indeed contain asbestos and if they do, what condition it is in. Secondly, assess the risk of the presence of that asbestos and finally, create a plan to manage that risk, and to act on that risk if needed.
Carefully read through these stages and there should be no undue problems, should your building be found to contain asbestos.